Bryson City Seasons — A Tale of Two Surgeons (Part 2)

This is from the sixteenth chapter from my best-selling book, Bryson City Seasons, which is the sequel to Bryson City TalesI hope that you’ll enjoy going back to Bryson City with me each week, and that if you do, you’ll be sure to invite your friends and family to join us.


Mitch sighed and looked up to the sky. “Ever hear of Francis Moore?”

I thought for a moment. “I think so. Wasn’t he one of the first transplant surgeons in this country?”

Mitch smiled. “He was. But before Francis Moore was a famous surgeon, he was a young doctor, just like you. And he, like you, had a fabulous mentor.” Mitch chuckled.

“And who might my fabulous mentor be?” I laughed.

“I’m too humble to mention my name.” Mitch chuckled. “Anyway, during his fourth year of surgical training, Dr. Moore was forced to try an experiment that changed the way we care for burns.”

“What happened?”

“Well, it all started with a fire in a packed nightclub in Boston in the early 1940s—1942, I believe. Because of the fabrics on the wall and ceiling, the fire engulfed the building before many folks could get out. Hundreds died in the flames. Of the over two hundred who were rescued, many were severely burned. About half were taken to one hospital, and the other half were transported to another—where Dr. Moore and his mentor, a crusty old doc by the name of Oliver Cope, were on duty.”

“Ah,” I commented, “I can identify with having a crusty old mentor.”

“Not funny,” Mitch noted as I laughed.

He continued. “Dozens of the most severely burned patients taken to their ER at Massachusetts General Hospital died quickly. Many died quickly from shock or trauma. Many others died from asphyxiation. Either their lungs were fatally damaged or their windpipes were burned and slowly swelled until the patients’ throats were completely closed. Moore and Cope gave the patients injections of morphine for comfort and turned their attention to the three or four dozen severely burned patients they thought might have a chance.”

Mitch took another sip of his drink and continued. “Walt, they had a choice. They could use the standard burn care of the day, or they could think of something new. Fortunately for their patients, they did the latter.”

I remembered back to my first job as a medical student in the burn unit at Charity Hospital in New Orleans. I could remember giving the severely burned patients a large injection of pain medicine and then lowering their severely burned bodies into a tank of warm water to debride their blisters and dead skin. It was torturous for the patients and miserable for me. After the session, we’d cover the burns with a soothing, cool, antibiotic burn cream.

In spite of the awfulness of this treatment, it was necessary to inflict pain to cut away the dead skin, because those who survive the shock and trauma of the burn have a very high risk of developing infection. God designed our skin to keep out infectious bacteria and viruses. And when that skin is broken or maimed, the gate is open for these germs to invade our body, set up shop, and kill us from sepsis. So I was very interested in this medical history lesson.

“What was the standard treatment back then?” I asked.

“It was dreadful. The blisters and dead skin would be cut away first. Then tannic acid would be very, very slowly poured onto the burns.”

“Tannic acid? You’ve gotta be kidding me! The pain would be horrible!”

Mitch nodded. “It was. In fact, the process was excruciating. It would take at least five or six people just to hold the patient down and slowly pour on the acid. It was horrible—and sometimes fatal.”

“That seems incredibly cruel to me.”

“Well, it was the standard therapy then. And burns had been cared for that way for years.”

“Didn’t someone question whether or not it was right?”

Mitch smiled. “Your first night on call, when you saw Shitake Sam with that trimalleolar fracture of the ankle, you didn’t question whether or not to go to OR, did you?”

I felt the color rising in my cheeks.

“No sir.”

“Why not?”

Now it was my turn to be quiet for a moment. “I don’t know.

That’s just the way I had been taught. In residency there’s not a lot of reward to be inventive. You’re just expected to do it the way you’ve been taught.”

“Exactly, Walt. By its very nature, medicine and her physicians are conservative. A good doctor is taught to abandon established techniques and medicines and procedures only with a great deal of reluctance.”

“Isn’t that good?”

“You bet it is! If you try something new and it’s the wrong decision, someone can get hurt or killed. I think that’s why most doctors are reluctant to try new things until there’s pretty good evidence that the potential benefits strongly outweigh the risks.”

“So what’d they do that was so different?”


  1. The Murder (Part 1)(Part 2)(Part 3)
  2. The Arrival (Part 1)(Part 2)
  3. The Hemlock Inn (Part 1)(Part 2)
  4. The Grand Tour (Part 1)(Part 2)
  5. The Interview (Part 1)(Part 2)(Part 3)
  6. Settling In (Part 1)(Part 2)
  7. First-Day Jitters (Part 1)(Part 2)
  8. Emergency (Part 1)(Part 2)
  9. The Delivery (Part 1)(Part 2)
  10. The “Expert” (Part 1)(Part 2)
  11. The Trial (Part 1)(Part 2)
  12. Shiitake Sam (Part 1)(Part 2)
  13. Wet Behind the Ears (Part 1)(Part 2)(Part 3)
  14. Lessons in Daily Practice (Part 1) — Anal Angina(Part 2)(Part 3)(Part 4)
  15. White Lies
  16. The Epiphany (Part 1)(Part 2)
  17. Becoming Part of the Team (Part 1)(Part 2)
  18. Monuments (Part 1)(Part 2)
  19. My First Home Victory (Part 1)(Part 2)
  20. Fisher of Men (Part 1)(Part 2)
  21. Fly-Fishing (Part 1); (Part 2)
  22. Something Fishy (Part 1)(Part 2)
  23. A Good Day at the Office
  24. An Evening to Remember
  25. Another New Doc Comes to Town
  26. ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas (Part 1)(Part 2)
  27. A Surprising Gift
  28. The New Year (Part 1)(Part 2)
  29. The Home Birth (Part1)(Part 2); (Part 3)
  30. The Showdown (Part1)(Part 2); (Part 3)
  31. The Initiation (Part 1); (Part 2); (Part 3)
  32. Home at Last (Part 1); (Part 2); (Part 3)

© Copyright WLL, INC. 2017. This blog provides a wide variety of general health information only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment from your regular physician. If you are concerned about your health, take what you learn from this blog and meet with your personal doctor to discuss your concerns.

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